by Workers’ Voice – Los Angeles
It is now 6 years since the economic crisis swept over the United States and the world. Banks and corporations had accumulated unprecedented fortunes in their hands, while the government assured the public that tax breaks for the big business (the capitalists), were necessary to extend general prosperity to all. Meanwhile, debts upon debts were issued to working-class families searching decent living conditions, security, and a piece of the “American Dream.” The bankers became super wealthy, “too big to fail”. But fail they did. The contradictions within the capitalist economy became unbearable, and burst into a crisis penetrating every pore of society.
The newly elected Obama administration responded immediately to the crisis. Trillions of dollars were pumped from the Treasury and the FED into banks and companies, as AIG, Fannie and Freddie Mac, Chrysler and General Motors. The total bailout is estimated at over $17 trillion, most of it falling on the shoulders of our tax dollars today and tomorrow.
Meanwhile… Obama’s campaign “promise” to pass the Employee Free Choice Act was buried, and workers in all the bailed-out auto companies were practically stripped of their union rights and the wages & benefits accrued through decades of struggle. A movement to stop Wisconsin Governor Walker from eliminating the union rights of state employees was safely redirected by Democrats into a failed recall election. Chicago teachers had to go on strike to try to halt Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s (formerly Obama’s chief of staff) blitzkrieg offensive on Chicago’s public schools. California’s K-12 teachers lost their job security in a recent major ruling; unemployment shot up; and Obamacare, that promised affordable healthcare for all, is costing the average enrollee hundreds of dollars or a tax if they can’t afford it. This is how economic crisis was managed by the government to accomplish a one-sided recovery.
It is 2014. A “fragile” recovery has begun we are told, even though employment opportunities are mostly limited to low-wage jobs in the service sector. Housing is picking up, and we are told to be joyful for hitting a 6-year foreclosure low in 2013, with just over 1.3 million houses foreclosed & auctioned. Perhaps workers and the American people should forget the hardships passed and look forward to a bright future ahead. Isn’t this the message communicated by the media everyday?
The Crisis Hits California and the Terminator Responds
It seems that, in public education too tranquility may prevail. “The worst is behind us.” But what a hurricane of devastation we have passed through! The government in Sacramento, in control of the majority of funding to our public education system, cut billions from education, while the officials in charge of almost all districts and systems of education raised tuition, cut programs & classes, and laid off thousands of workers. In Los Angeles K-12, almost 4,000 educators were laid off between 2010 and 2012. At the CSUs, tuition increased from $1428 in 2001/02 to over $6000 as of this year!
At that time, we had a Republican governor in CA, the Terminator, and the CA Legislature was split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. While the right-wing demanded austerity measures (cuts to public education & social services, attacks against state workers rights), we were assured by the Democratic Party it was impossible to pass any new taxes because of the 2/3rd super majority necessary to do that. Companies and banks were saved from any of that “shared sacrifice” we heard so much about. Perhaps they couldn’t afford it?
What has Governor Brown done to you lately?
Governor Brown came into office in 2011, only his platform differed very little from his Republican colleagues. He declared, “We need budget cuts. We need the continued growth of the economy for a long time.” But what kind of economic “growth” and for whom? The Governor gave us one answer: the new growth would not include quality and affordable healthcare for needy children. He pushed to end California’s Healthy Families program in 2012 which had provided low-cost health services to children in poverty.
In 2012, Brown terminated the Millionaire’s Tax (MT) and replaced it with Proposition 30. The MT was supported by several worker unions, nearly all of the public education movement, and was the #1 demand of the daring student-led occupation of the CA Capitol building on March 4, 2012. The MT was to raise taxes only on those earning over $250,000 yearly and all of the funds were headed directly towards public education. It was to last 7 years, providing some needed stability to our education system. Instead, Brown maneuvered to have the MT killed, and with the agreement of a sell-out union leadership, was successful. Prop. 30 was the result. It raised a general sales tax that burdens the regular folk, and reduced the tax rate on the wealthy in comparison to the MT. The new funds were no longer earmarked for education, and have been spent on prisons, bureaucratic expenditures, or paying off state debts. Yes, the banks must get paid!
Meanwhile, funding for public education has remained stagnant during the recovery. And the back-door dealing of education officials and the Governor to freeze tuition have already proven a dead promise as CSU’s across the state raised so-called “Student Success Fees” averaging several hundred dollars while the UC Regents just announced impending tuition hikes. In the end, we had the great fortune of replacing a Republican Terminator with a Democrat…Terminator!
Super Majority or status quo?
Throughout the 2009-2012 austerity blitzkrieg, many in the public education movement as well as “progressive” liberal politicians took aim at the super majority (2/3rd) clause that prevents new taxes from being raised. The logic was that Republicans blocked any new tax increases because they were aligned to the corporate elite, while the Democrats were hemmed in from doing anything but making budget cuts.
But since 2012, it is the Democrats who have held a super majority in both houses of the Legislature. If ever there was a time for the Democrats to act, it would be now. And not an inch of a break with the status-quo has occurred! There have been no new taxes on the wealthy, no substantive increase of funding for public education, further cuts to social services, no elimination of the death penalty, etc. Call a spade a spade: The Democrats are the centrist-right Status-Quo.
We can now see that the problem is not just with the Republicans, nor with Governor Brown the individual, but with the political program and social character of both the Republican and Democratic parties, and the way institutions work to maintain the status quo.
Not a Single Vote for the status quo, Not a Single Vote for Governor Brown!
We are being asked to vote in the coming November midterm elections. But this calling is being ignored by the majority of the people. It is ignored, not by accident or simple ignorance, but because people see in elections only the “right” to affirm the status-quo.
While we can and should participate in referendums on specific initiatives, including a NO VOTE on Proposition 2 that will defund K-12 public schools and a Yes vote on Prop 47 that reduces most non-violent offenses to a misdemeanor charge, the politically conscious and progressive workers, students, and folk cannot vote for the Democratic Party or fall into the lying, ballot-box liberal trap that voting is the primary means to advance social and political change.
No, in order to advance the cause of social progress, the working-class and the people, must forge their own politics, their own movements, and their own parties. Though it is hard for us to see a workers’ & peoples’ movement and workers’ party on the horizon, the ground under our feet is crumbling, and only by grasping more strongly and more firmly towards that horizon will a new politics and new economic and social order be born. On this, we must take a stand!